CBP Looks at the Flip Side of Acquisition: A Hosted Conversation with Former Government Acquisition Executives

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I had the honor and pleasure of having a front-row seat at a recent CBP acquisition discussion, where the internal group had a chance to peek at what acquisition looks like from the industry side. Hosted by Earl Lewis, Executive Director, Deputy Head of the Contracting Activity in the CBP Office of Acquisition, the event featured a panel of three former DHS government executives who gave their perspective of being a part of industry today and what it is like to work with the various acquisition offices in government. Cedric Sims, Evermay’s President & CEO, along with Ashley Lewis of Wynne Acquisition Solutions, and Guy Torres of Northrop Grumman were the participating discussion panelists.

Needless to say, it was a lively discussion. Today’s acquisition process is complex, at times opaque, and costly to the bidders and government when you consider the tremendous amount of Human Capital that goes into a single acquisition. As a career BD and capture guy, it was the ultimate in “inside baseball.” I have always felt that there should be an Exchange Student Program between government acquisition offices and industry so that each side gets a chance to walk a mile in the other’s shoes. Living those experiences from a different perspective goes a long way toward greater communication.

Speaking of communication, that was the theme both sides stressed as the best way to break-down the barriers that, in many ways, support the myths that government "can’t talk to industry.”

The following points were discussed:

1)      Integrity - Re-read the Rules:

a)      FAR: it’s easy to think you know it, but it has changed over time, and industry is studying it to find ways to give you what you want/need

b)       FASA &FARA: if it doesn’t say “thou shalt not…”  then DO IT

c)       Mythbusters: Find the 3 “Mythbusters” documents and read them 

2)      Check Yourself, But Keep Moving Forward

a)      Integrity: everything in the open; balance the viewpoints

b)      Fair: Is my interaction fair?

c)       Competitive: Does my interaction encourage competition?

3)      Communication: Remember that communication needs to happen all along the way…industry should not be surprised by performance issues on a contract. (i.e. the RFP or RFI should not be the first time they realize government dissatisfaction)

a)      All Along the Way: Talk to Industry over the lifecycle of the procurement, especially about quality delivery. 

i)        Don’t let the debrief be the first time an incumbent hears they are failing. 

ii)      CPARs Are Your Friend: If the CPARs are well-executed, there should be no instance of an incumbent first hearing of failure at a re-compete. 

iii)    Respond: Not replying affects the ability to deliver a quality proposal

iv)     Dispel Myths: act on the Mythbusters insights (see 1C)

b)      A Well-Written RFP ensures greater opportunity to get what you want

i)        Clarify: don’t blindly cut and paste

ii)      Make Differentiation Possible: If you want to ensure you see differences in proposals, you *must* change the evaluation factors, so that differentiation is possible.

iii)    Industry wants to deliver the best: Industry has a vested interest in delivering the best.  Help them do that by partnering with them. Their success is your success. 

Industry’s Biggest Beefs:

1)      Bad/unclear requirements:  Writing solid requirements drives the past performance selection and the pricing strategy. When the requirements are unclear then the probability of win for the bidder is diminished thereby reducing the number of competitors. One way to provide clarity is to release a draft RFP that allows for an earlier conversation before the final RFP. Such an action may reduce the number of questions to the government when the final is released.

2)      Unvetted Solicitations: DRFP’s are a pain in the neck, but they help refine the ultimate results: Because of the feedback they inspire, the resulting requirements are of higher quality…pain on the front-end, reduces pain on the back-end

3)      Rushed Requirements: Time invested in requirements is time saved: You get more innovation by producing requirements that don’t inspire a lot of questions, because people know what you are looking for, and have more time to iterate on differentiators

4)      Bad debriefs: Good debriefs are the best insurance against protest.  This helps them understand the “why” behind the decision.

Question: When a company is out of the “competitive range” why does a company want to stay in the competition 

·       Debrief Access: Most will stay in, because they are looking to get a full debrief from the government.  They want to know what they did wrong, and it doesn’t cost that much more to see the process through and get good feedback to help them on the next bid.  

Just writing it all down on paper makes me feel better.  Now, let’s keep talking…and listening...and doing.  What would you add to the conversation?